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Tax question causes controversy in Conway | Politics

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Tax question causes controversy in Conway

CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) -- Here's something you don't see every day: a Democratic and Republican Congressman uniting on a tax issue.

Conway officials met with Congressmen Tim Griffin and Mike Ross on a proposal to raise the state's severance tax on natural gas.

This is a hot button issue, with some taking shots. Mayors, councilmen and residents all met at the Conway Chamber of Commerce, all oppose raising that tax. They're afraid it will cause gas companies to pull up stakes and go elsewhere; taking with them jobs and business. But tax supporters say that's hog wash.

Congressmen from opposite sides of the aisle -- Republican Tim Griffin and Democrat Mike Ross -- sit on the same side of the table on this issue.

"In tough economic times an unnecessary tax increase is the last things Arkansans need," says Ross.

The tax is the seven percent hike Sheffield Nelson is proposing on natural gas. Right now it ranges from about one up to five, depending on how much gas the well produces.

"It's pretty simple economics. This has been a blessing, you know; all the jobs that came out of the natural gas industry and we need to be doing things to encourage them," says Griffin.

Nelson sent a statement, saying there's a reason the two congressmen are united on this front. "If you look at the records you will find that the oil and gas people have given quite a bit of money to both Griffin and Ross as candidates."

Monday the Conway chamber of commerce held a panel discussion on whether to pass a resolution to oppose the severance tax hike. Mayor Tab Townsell fears it could take away much needed business from his community.

"We've tripled our hotel revenue since 2005 since we've started this Fayetteville shale," says Townsell. "Restaurant sales are up almost 50 percent since '06 and both of those we can tie back to the Fayetteville shale."

Nelson, a former natural gas executive himself, believes in the power of the people, saying "I still feel people deserve to vote on this issue."